Aid and the Daily Mail tendency

I’ve spent too much of my week arguing that yes we should give aid and yes it can work.  The launch of DFID’s Aid Reviews  launched another round of argument, some of it valid, about the what, why and how of aid.   But my colleague Jonathan Glennie probably said it best here, in this letter which sadly we didn’t actually send:

Dear Mr Daily Mail,

Aren’t we bored yet of this bogus debate between the “aid lobby” and “aid sceptics”. There is simply no evidence to support a position that “aid never works” any more than there is to suggest that “aid always works”. There are, of course, enough anecdotes of aid being put to good use and aid being put to disastrous use to continue to fill column inches of lazy journalists for some years yet. But people who have actually bothered to spend time to look at this subject will realise that aid can work, depending on a range of factors. Aid has, sometimes, saved or improved millions of lives. On other occasions, it has propped up dictators and imposed devastating economic policies that have destroyed fledgling industries. Sometimes it has helped poor countries on their way to becoming richer (South Korea, Vietnam, Botswana) and sometimes it has led to concerning levels of aid dependence (Mali, Sierra Leone, Tanzania).
Rather than selecting anecdotes and pretending that they constitute evidence on which to base policy making, isn’t it time to engage in a more serious discussion of how to use aid most effectively. While not everything the present aid review suggests is sensible, it does, at least, engage professionally and thoughtfully with these questions. If only your columnists had the time to do the same.